Fade To Black
November 5, 2004
Slightly under a year earlier, on November 25, 2003, Jay Z held his “final” performance ever at Madison Square Garden, documenting the star-studded show—which included appearances by Missy Elliott, Beyoncé, Ghostface Killah, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Twista, Puffy, Common, Beanie Sigel and Pharrell, among others—with the theatrical release of Fade To Black. The film doubled as a retrospective of Jay’s life and career interspersed with concert footage and Rick Rubin’s taxidermy collection (what?).
Of course, by the time the documentary dropped, Jay had already returned to performing on the ill-fated Best Of Both Worlds Tour with R. Kelly, which was in the midst of falling apart and would eventually result in a $90 million lawsuit and the revelations about R. Kelly crying on tour and serving food at a McDonald’s. But none of that takes away from Fade To Black, which captured an iconic moment in music history. But we all knew Jay couldn’t stay away.
President Of Def Jam
December 8, 2004
It was the end of one era and the beginning of another; Jay, Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, the three founders and owners of Roc-A-Fella Records, gave up their iconic label and sold it to Def Jam for $10 million. Yet as Roc-A-Fella was folded completely into the major label structure, Jay wasn’t giving it up; the same day he was named president and CEO of Def Jam, putting him in charge of such rappers as Fabolous, DMX, Ghostface Killah and Kanye West, to name just a few. As a rapper-turned-businessman with a clothing line, Reebok deal and 40/40 Club chain, the move solidified Jay’s ascendance into moguldom.
Not everyone wound up happy with the appointment, however; DMX later said he left the label due to Jay’s management skills, and Hov himself described every meeting as “frustrating” in an interview with Rolling Stone. He eventually stepped down as label boss on January 1, 2008.
Ends Feud With Nas
October 27, 2005
The beef between Jay Z and Nas was painful on a number of levels, not least of which being that it divided hip-hop over two of its most iconic MCs (though it did produce some outstanding music). But that all ended at Power 105.1′s Powerhouse show in 2005, as Jay brought out Nasty Nas on stage and publicly performed “Dead Presidents” and “The World Is Yours,” standing together for the famous photo that officially deaded the ill will. The two would collaborate on a number of songs throughout the years following, and Nas signed to Def Jam under Jay’s leadership on December 23, 2006, turning their new-found friendship into a mutually beneficial business deal.
November 21, 2006
It was the worst-kept secret in hip-hop—Jay Z wasn’t really retired. He’d been on a tour with R. Kelly and collaborated with Linkin Park (as well as his previously unreleased Unfinished Business album with Kellz) on remixed material, but it wasn’t until 2006′s Kingdom Come that Jay officially emerged from his self-imposed exile with brand-new material. Many, however, may have wished he’d spent more time kicking up his feet—it was widely regarded as one of his poorest efforts, despite the fact that it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and wound up nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards the next year (losing out to Kanye’s Graduation).
“Show Me What You Got” was the album’s lead single, and certainly made waves, but the album left many underwhelmed, particularly some of the rappers on Def Jam who started grumbling about their resources being funneled toward the boss’ pet project. It may not have been Jay’s best rap performance, but it was the gateway for him getting back in the game, and for that, at least, we can be grateful.